I’m a huge fan of Wes Craven. Pound for pound, the original “Nightmare on Elm Street” is the best horror movie of the last three decades (inspiring the most unnecessary remake in cinema history earlier this year). Mixing sadism with surrealism, it’s the only fright flick that actually made me sleep with the lights on as an adult. In “Wes Craven’s Nightmare,” the filmmaker managed to make dream demon Freddy Krueger scary again after five progressively worse sequels — solidifying Craven’s status as a genius in my book. That picture, released in 1994, was Craven’s last outing as both writer and director, and ever since, his devotees have been chafing at the bit for his comeback as an auteur.
Sad to say, “My Soul to Take” isn’t worth the wait.
Oh, the film starts off promisingly enough. The first five minutes are actually riveting. We see mild-mannered family man Abel Plenkov watch a TV news report about a knife-wielding serial killer dubbed the Riverton Ripper – only to discover to his horror that one of his own multiple personalities is the murderer. Abel fatally stabs his pregnant wife and battles police, who gun him down. But he proves hard to kill and bounces back several times, Jason-like, before vanishing into the woods with what could be fatal wounds. At the same time, seven babies are born prematurely in the local hospital.
Sixteen years later, the seven kids, now known as the “Riverton Seven,” convene in the woods to repeat their annual ritual: “killing” Abel Plenkov in effigy to prevent him from returning to murder them. Unfortunately, the police interrupt the ceremony and soon the teens do indeed begin to die one by one. The audience is then kept guessing: is Plenkov still alive and wreaking havoc — or has the soul of the Riverton Ripper invaded the body of one of the teens, to carry on his grisly work?
I found the premise of personalities migrating into young people who are then psychically linked intriguing. The concept suggests myriad possibilities – which are not, unfortunately, explored in the film. And by the time we are introduced to the notion that Plenkov’s soul – or just his serial-killer personality – might inhabit one of the teens, most of the possible suspects have already been bumped off. So the film doesn’t work as a supernatural whodunit.
The killings themselves are quite unimaginatively executed, and are sure to disappoint the blood-and-guts crowd. The teens are one-dimensional stereotypes: the boorish jock, the religious chick, the noble black blind kid, the self-centered blonde, etc. The victims also do those stupid things that make it hard for you to root for them — like heading INTO a Freddy Kruegerish boiler room (or whatever it’s supposed to be) when they hear a creepy noise inside, or running headlong into the woods when the safety of a police car is just yards away.
The only fully-developed character is Bug, played well by Max Thieriot. Shy, sensitive and unstable, he appears to be developing multiple personality disorder himself. We are supposed to spend a good deal of the movie trying to figure out whether Bug is actually the culprit. Except there’s one major problem: we often see the killer in action when Bug is clearly somewhere else!
In the dénouement, the supernatural element is hurriedly explained, but it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The ads make a big deal of the movie being Wes Craven’s first foray into 3-D, but not once is the effect used to scare us. It turns out 3-D was an afterthought. While “My Soul to Take” sat on a shelf, awaiting distribution, someone had the bright idea of converting it to 3-D, to capitalize on the latest trend. The only purpose appears to be to force movie goers to shell out a few extra bucks. Having to wear those clunky 3-D glasses made this less-than-satisfying movie-going experience even more annoying.
So two thumbs down for Craven’s “comeback” movie. Maybe he’ll be in better form when his next project, “Scream 4,” bloodies up the big screen.